In Our Own World

My fifteen year old daughter, Emma, has recently been diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa. We hear about it, read about it, sometimes see it perhaps from a distance. Nothing prepares you for the appalling reality of it. Someone you love denying themselves, day after day, that most basic of human needs while you watch them slowing wasting away in front of you.

As I watch Emma at mealtimes, see each tiny agonising, hateful morsel of food pass her lips I often feel trapped. Trapped by my own fears and angst and frustration and anger and pity. And I get to thinking, I can’t know what is going on for her, I can’t really understand the thoughts and feelings and anger that drive her self-destruction. I try, believe me I try, but insight eludes me. I can’t know it. I can’t feel it. Perhaps it is unknowable.

And as I sit there, waiting, watching focusing my energy on managing my own emotional responses to this heartbreaking scene I am sometimes minded of the managers and leaders we work with. I am minded of the struggle they face to access other people’s worlds. The HR person who tries to see the world through the Operations Director’s eyes. The team leader who sees the parent’s need to leave a project meeting to attend to an unwell child as an inconvenience. The ‘hurry up’ who doesn’t understand why her colleague won’t get to the point. The leader who can’t see why others are defensive in her presence. The programme manager who fails to understand why others don’t embrace the solution.
Sometimes as I facilitate, watch participants in role plays endeavouring to access the world view of others, trapped as they are in their own perspective, I wonder why they can’t see it. It’s there, in front of them. Step outside your own world view. Look at it through their eyes. Yet they are stuck, ensnared by their own assumptions and beliefs and prejudices and mindsets and habits. They look, but often they don’t see it, don’t feel it, don’t understand it.

And now, as I watch Emma crying into a glass of poisonous milk, I understand the challenge for those managers locked in their own world, venturing to enter the world of others.

I understand, and yet I don’t. Not really.